Monday, April 2, 2018

Swinging on the Gate

My teacher and I have been working on Kong-ans for a few years, some centuries old, some more modern. A couple months ago, he threw me a curve ball. Rather than using other peoples’  writings and dialogues, he told me to come up with some of my own. In no particular order, here are a few of them. You can answer if you like. But they’re between you and your teacher. How do you swing on a gateless gate?

Case 7: Milking the Bull

An old monk and a young monk were in the pasture tending the cattle. It had been grey and rainy all day, and suddenly the sun broke through the clouds, and a sunbeam shone directly onto the young monk’s face, almost blinding him.

He exclaimed to the old monk, “Master! I have had my great revelation, my great awakening!”

The old monk yawned, and kept watching the cattle. Wide-eyed, the young monk exclaimed again, “Master, did you not hear me? I’ve had my great awakening! I’ve seen the nature of all things! All things in the universe are one!”

The old monk yawned again, barely turned his head, spat out a piece of straw, and said to the young monk, “Oh, very good, very good. Now go milk the bull.”

Shortly thereafter, the young monk had a great awakening.

  1. What does the sun breaking through the clouds mean?
  2. Why did the old monk tell the young monk to milk a bull?
  3. Which of the young monk’s awakenings was correct?


Case 10: Not Three

The midday meal was finished, and all the monks were returning to the kitchen to wash their bowls. One young monk stayed at his spot just staring. Another monk came over to him, and started to admonish him for his staying seated while the others were ready to start the work practice. 

The young monk stopped him, saying, “You are right to scold me, brother. I don’t belong here. I fall asleep when all the others are meditating strongly, when the others go to sleep, I’m wide awake with thoughts spinning in my head. I don’t understand when the Master says, ‘Not, one, not two.’ How have you stayed so long?”

“You are making big trouble, young monk. Why do you think that is? Why are you here?”

The young monk was surprised, having expected the old monk to console him. “If you can explain one thing to me, I’ll stay,” he said.

“Come with me,” and they walked outside into the snow. The old monk went up ahead a little bit, stooped down quickly, then turned and quickly fired a snowball. “That’s not one, not two. Do you understand?”
The young monk made a snowball and hit the old man squarely in the face.
The old monk exclaimed. “Ah, you do understand! Now get inside and get to work or the others will hit you with more than snow!”

  1. What did the young monk understand?
  2. Is the snowball one or two?
  3. How many snowflakes are there in a snowball?


Case 12: Who Transmits the Robe and Bowl?

The young monk came running down the hall, skidding as he caught up with his teacher. “Master, you must be so proud! You have just received Dharma transmission. That’s wonderful! Does it make you happy?”
The Master raised one eyebrow and said, “I am happy.”
The student somewhat quizzically asked, “But you don’t look happy. You look like you always do.”
The Master lowered his eyebrow and stated, “I am sad.”
“But Master, you have been transmitted the robe and bowl! Surely you must be happy.”
The Master raised his eyebrow again and said, “Monk, I am going into the bathroom now so I can use my robe and head needs shaving.” 
The young monk stood there and raised both eyebrows as the Master walked briskly away. .

  1. What does a raised eyebrow mean?
  2. Was the Master happy or sad?
  3. How did the Master use the robe and bowl?